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Goal Breakdown: Movement, understanding give Plata first goal of 2017

Did Joao Plata score RSL’s best goal of 2017?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Joao Plata’s first goal of 2017 was more than just a moment of relief for the striker — it was a demonstration that his movement and understanding with the attackers around him is progressing at a real clip.

First, we have to go back to a failed cross from Philadelphia and a nice bit of hard work from Tony Beltran. We talked about Beltran’s effort here and how his hard work makes a difference — and there’s no better place to start when we’re talking about this goal.

Beltran feeds Savarino on the left flank. Let’s move forward to the next pass.

Savarino’s run up the flank is fairly uncontested, and he ends his run with a nice pass to Joao Plata. Here, we have four Real Salt Lake players visible. Tony Beltran is making a run up the right, but that leaves us with a five-on-six situation. Clearly, we score here, so let’s talk about how we get there.

Plata drops the ball right to Rusnak, and Plata doesn’t push too far forward after receiving the ball. In fact, think of him here as tied to Rusnak with a rubber band. He’ll move forward when Rusnak does and not a moment sooner. That won’t stay the case, of course, but it’s important here because it keeps Plata (1) in a position to receive the ball, and (2) between the two banks of defensive players.

There’s Tony Beltran streaming in. He’s receiving a pass from Rusnak, who waited well for an opportunity. He could have tried to force a pass, but this run is going to open everything up. No player is in a great position to deal with Beltran, so you can see a defender starting to break from his position.

Here, we can see why it’s important that Plata has stayed where he is. Beltran zips a sideways pass to him, and this is where the magic starts. Important things to note here: Jefferson Savarino is keeping two defenders busy, one of which is also trying to pay attention to Plata. Look at that — Plata is completely free. He hasn’t even moved much, but he hasn’t had to.

From here, it’s just a bit of magic. Let’s just watch a video.

Notice how Plata broke that rubber-banding? He’s stayed free of too much defensive attention (which, frankly, is ridiculous — I know he’s been out of form, but ignore Plata at your own peril) and that’s given him the time and space to make a run. The finish is good, the cross is fantastic — but it’s the movement that makes the biggest difference.